In 'Purple', story is the star

Written by DSM Columnists on Friday, October 3, 2008 at 8:39 AM

In 'Purple', story is the star
By PUNCH SHAW
Special to the Star-Telegram
permalink to the post on Star-Telegram website

DALLAS — In the end, it is the story that prevails.
The Color Purple, a musical retelling of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that opened at the Music Hall at Fair Park on Tuesday night, is an outstanding production in almost every regard. The cast is stellar, and the vocal work is especially first-rate, but no one forgets the acting chores, either.

Every visual detail — sets, lighting, costuming — is also right on the money. The music, by a committee of three, is solid and serviceable, and only occasionally rises above the ordinary. The quality of the singing in this production, however, elevates it.

But, while this show wows with its "big musical" trappings, it is ultimately Alice Walker’s vivid characters and heart-wrenching story that carry the day. Book author Marsha Norman has done a superb job of capturing the straight-to-the gut emotions of the source material. And, better still, she has peppered the show’s grim story of loss and oppression with just enough humor in just the right places.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that director Gary Griffin’s cast is led by three of the finest musical theater actresses to be found in one show.

It is hard to image anyone doing more with the central role of Celie than Jeannette Bayardelle. Her character moves from scared and beaten-down at the opening curtain to confident and empowered in the closing numbers. Tony nominee Felicia P. Fields provides the desperately needed comic relief for the show as Sofia. A more subtle performance is turned in by Angela Robinson as the Bessie Smith-like Shug Avery. She explores all of the corners of her complex, free-spirited character and sings up a storm in the process.

Mention must be made of LaToya London as Celie’s sister, Nettie. Many will remember that this AmericanIdol competitor of a few seasons back was championed by Elton John when she failed to win.The only real problem with this show is its length. Stretching two hours and 45 minutes, it really loses steam in the second of its two acts. It needs to be at least 30 minutes leaner. But fans of the Walker book or the movie will be delighted with this gorgeously mounted musical. Finally, don’t forget that this show takes place close enough to the State Fair of Texas to be able to smell the cotton candy. Traffic and parking can be issues.

The Color Purple Through Oct. 19
Music Hall, Fair Park, Dallas
8 p.m. Tues-Sun; 2 p.m. Sat-Sun
214-691-7200; http://www.dallassummermusicals.org/
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission
Be advised: There is little objectionable language, but this is a mature story unsuitable for preteens.
Best reason to go: Alice Walker

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